The True Meaning of Christmas

Christmastime is my favorite time of the year!  The romantic snow, the homemade Christmas cookies, the family get-togethers, the holiday food, the plaid!  Everyone is cheerful and gives thoughtful gifts to show friendship or appreciation and people gather to celebrate with hugs and gifts.

I do tend to get caught up in the shopping and gifting, wanting to show my love or communicate how much I care for someone through gifts.  I guess you could say my love language is giving gifts!  I find that I’ve bought too much when I start wrapping, most of the presents under the tree are from me!

Last year I decided to experience Christmas in a different way. I committed to a 25 Days of Kindness- starting December 1st, I volunteered or gave back to one charity each day through Christmas day.  I played games with children at the Crisis Nursery, rang the bell for Salvation Army, packed blessing bags for homeless teens, and donated toys to the Children’s Hospital to name a few.  On Christmas Eve, my family and I made fleece blankets and drove downtown to hand them out to the homeless in zero degree weather.  This experience gave me a gift of appreciation- to be grateful for what I have and to give a small piece of happiness or importance to someone else.

This year I thought, “why not have a 5 Days of Kindness at Evine where employees can work together as a team and give back to others while having fun in the process?!”

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Day 1 we all wrote cards to those serving overseas for our military with “Holidays for Heroes”- over 100 cards were sent!

 

 

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Day 2 we made sandwiches for the homeless for The Sandwich Project, created by a former teacher and he literally feeds the homeless every night! Captain Sig Hansen even made a few!

 

 

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Day 3: Everyone donated over 100 toys for Toys For Tots for needy children in our area. The 3 Amigos had fun being a part by donating presents on air.

 

 

 

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Day 4: Employees of Evine chose a senior or a child to buy a gift for with “Be an Angel” project and all 80 names were pulled right away!  We will have to find more names to choose next year!

 

 

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Day 5: Over 50 fleece blankets were made and donated through “Project Linus” which distributes the blankets to children in local hospitals.

 

 

Color all of this giving with a sense of loss of a friend and former host, Connie Kunkle at 58 years old, and it makes me reflect upon the true meaning of life–what we spend our time doing.  We hear it said over and over again—life is about relationships and making an impact in others’ lives.  I hope we have done that this year through the ‘5 Days of Kindness,’ that we have inspired you to give your time to someone in need and in turn, to feel a sense of purpose and community.

I wish you all gratitude for what you have in your lives, and to show your appreciation by making a difference in another’s life who may need it most, that is what the holiday season is all about.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

With Gratitude,

Wendi Russo

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Norton Family Merriest Moments Christmas Tradition

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Norton clan! 

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We kick off our family holiday season by sitting down as a family; me, John (hubby), Connor (26) and Alec (22), to get our Christmas card together.

It starts out as a time to reflect on the past year and recall what we are grateful for and what have become our Norton Merriest Moments. 

We started this tradition rather than writing a Christmas letter, it was hard enough to get the boys to sit down and think of their Merriest Moments, much less get them to commit to write part of a Christmas letter….

Let me give you some background on this…so when we sit down as a family to eat a meal, we started sharing what we were grateful for for the day.  Now it didn’t have to be a life-altering, earth-shattering thing to be grateful for, all it was was a moment to find goodness in that day.  This way if it was a particularly hard day at school for one of the boys, or a trying time at work for us, we would have to pause and find gratitude in something, anything, for the day.  It could be, “I am thankful for the dessert mom made,” or, “I am thankful for my friends,” even, “ I am thankful that Cooper the Wonderdog didn’t poop in the house today!”  This tradition continued when friends joined us for dinner as well.  At first the guest would be self conscious about the whole grateful thing but after time, returning friends and family were looking forward to the “what are you grateful for today” moment at the Norton table.  So many times this opened up conversations that would not have been had. One special moment for a friend of my son’s and his mom who were at our house for dinner, for the first time in a very long time, the son said he was grateful for his mom.  Seems small right?   Not to that mom who was so happy to hear something other than grunts from her teenage son.

OK and THEN it morphed into “Sunday Steak Nights.” That, has taken on a life of it’s own at our house.

The Norton table is open every Sunday night to friends, family, coworkers, strays and people needing a fix of love.  Some Sundays there are 2 at the table some Sundays there are 12!  And the “what we are grateful for for the day” goes on and on and on.  So fun!  The more people at my table the more grateful I am!  And there is always somehow enough to go around, a little like the tale of the loaves and fishes.

So back to the holiday tradition…we wanted to have a family holiday card to be about what we were grateful for, since it’s kind of “our thing” now but we wanted it to be what we were grateful for for the YEAR!

It got crazy long so we shortened it for the holidays to: The Norton’s Merriest Moments

 

For 2016 the Norton Merriest Moments are:

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2016 Merriest Moments Continued

Past Norton Merriest Moments

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2014 Norton Merriest Moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2013 Norton Merriest Moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2010 Norton Merriest Moments

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrapped Up in Love

When it comes to wrapping presents, there are two types of people in this world: Those who LOVE to gift wrap, and those who HATE it.   I’m in the LOVE it category. I rarely use gift bags, and shopping for ribbon and paper is as much fun to me as shopping for shoes and bags.  I adore the prepping, the doing and the giving of beautifully wrapped gifts.

When I was in my twenties and pursuing a career as an actress I would take on side jobs to help pay the bills.  Well, you can imagine how over the moon I was when I found a part-time job wrapping gifts at Dayton’s Department store in downtown Minneapolis.

I remember going in for the interview, the interviewee ask me a few obligatory questions, then walked me to the wrapping counter where all the wrapping supplies were, she handed me a gift box and said “wrap this”.  I said, “Game on!” I love to wrap and I had been doing it for years, so I felt confident in my abilities.  She walked away, came back in a couple of minutes, right when I was finishing up.  She picked up the wrapped gift, examined every angle, she looked unimpressed and said “It’s ok, we can work with this, if you want the job, you’ve got it.”  I started my new job wrapping gifts 2 days later, got a lot better with her help and experience.

I worked 4, 6 or 8 hours shift (depending on my availability and seasonal demands) 2 to 3 days a week for several years, and I had the dry hands and paper cuts to prove it.  All these years later I still love to wrap presents.  I thought it would be fun to share a video with a few tips and tricks I learned from that job.  These tips will make wrapping fun, easy and impressive at the same time.

Tools You’ll Need

Sharp scissors, clear gift wrap tape, tape measure, sturdy box,  ribbon ( 1.5 inch wide wired ribbon is my favorite), stapler with staples loaded, and gift wrap (I like a thick premium wrap, but any will do), find a clean table top, counter or kitchen island.

Sit back, relax & wrap!

Once your you’ve got the tools and space you need, put on some holiday music, pour your favorite beverage and get in the holiday spirit.

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Deck the Halls!

For me the sounds of Christmas from my childhood are my sister Kate excitedly clapping because she can’t sleep or the sound of my Little Nanny whispering to both of us as we cuddled up on the sofa and she told us how Christmas would begin; who would arrive, what they would bring. The clapping isn’t something my sister does anymore – as she’s a full grown woman with two kids. But I do. I love Christmas so much that I can’t help but clap spontaneously at the thought of it and every Christmas starts with decorating. I love nothing more than getting up when it’s still dark and gazing at the magic and beauty of the twinkling lights.

One of the most exciting things about spending my first holiday season here in the US is how many people but up their decorations right after Thanksgiving. I usually wait until the 1st of December – mainly because I like a real tree and I want it to still look good come New Year’s Eve (we used to have some epic parties in London!) but as any of my former flatmates would attest, I continue to decorate and add more every day until then. It’s basically like living with Buddy from the movie Elf.

This year is my first year alone at Christmas time. Usually I get to trim my tree with my flatmates and then my family. We ice gingerbread cookies with our names on them and trim the tree together. I once went full Elf and made popcorn garlands – it took me all night to make one that only went once around the tree and then the whole house smelled like a stale cinema – #christmasfail.

The last real tree we had was called Eric. My flatmate Rowls and I got up early to go and get the best tree in the whole of London. As we stepped out of our apartment building we were greeted by two rather worse-for-wear elves selling Christmas trees right outside the pub at the end of our street. We got the best tree we’ve ever had for a steal of a price but the Elves insisted we name him, so he became Eric. If you’ve ever had a real tree you’ll know, some don’t drop down, or they’re too wide at the bottom or too tall and skinny at the top. One dark night I bought a tree that was so lopsided I had to decorate every night because it would always fall over whilst we were out at work. Eric was, and will for ever be, the best Christmas tree ever. In fact, I’ve just realised I haven’t had a real tree since then.

He was perfection!

My Mum and Dad always wait for me to come home for Christmas for me to trim their tree.

We put on Johnny Mathis ‘When A Child is Born’ which has been THE Christmas album all our lives and it’s like I’m five years old again. Last year was really emotional because I knew that I wouldn’t get to spend Christmas with them next year. I decorated the dining room but made it my mission to use every single decoration in the box. It was an awesome Christmas grotto by the time I’d finished. Christmas is the one time of year when more is more!

When I moved to Minnesota at the end of January this year every house was covered in snow and still had their decorations and lights up. It was like touching down in the North Pole! So this year I’ve decided to keep my theme generic and seasonal (so I can keep it up for as long as possible!;) I’ve decorated my balcony with a swag and Mother nature herself has gifted me icicles.

Inside I’ve kept my theme festive but versatile so I can keep it up for New Year and beyond into 2017.  I’m off to the UK in January and I’ll be too excited to spend a belated Christmas with my family to be putting the decorations away. I’ll be listening to Johnny Mathis and looking forward to eating mince pies!

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Here’s my quick guide to creating a seasonal theme that will last all winter:

The message of the season

Peace, love and joy. Signs that capture the spirit of the season work all year and remind you what’s it all about!

img_0707Be bold!

If you want to create a contemporary theme that extends beyond December 25th step away from the red and green. I LOVE pink! Think outside the box and embrace your favourite colours. I just used some spare glass jars I had in the kitchen to create this look.

 


Stars & snowflakes

They are an easy way to create a theme that gives a Winter Wonderland feel for the whole season and that you can add to easily.

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Metallics & holographics

Metallics maximise your lighting to create more magic and are perfect for parties.

 

 

Poundshop, dollar stores and party stores

Some of the most effective decorations are the cheapest. Ikea are great for fun pieces that won’t break the bank and party stores for ceiling decorations you can re-use every year.

img_0701Fruits of the season

Pine cones, cinnamon sticks, oranges slices and berries are a feast for the eyes and fill your home with a wonderful, welcoming smell. This is an easy how-to guide I found online that I used to make these orange slices.

 

Lights and candles

Twinkling lights look magical all year-round. I have a timer on my balcony lights so I don’t have to brave the cold and it’s lovely to come home to.

Keep it safe with battery operated candles. These are great value at 6 for less than $20 and are remote controlled!

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Family and Friends at the Table

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  My husband Lewis and I are so fortunate to have such a beautiful family and amazing friends, and we love spending time with them.  We enjoy entertaining throughout the year but there is something about November and December that is so very special.

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We have been collecting Waterford Crystal for over 20 years and we have quite the collection… and we use it!  We love entertaining with Waterford Crystal. There is something so supremely elegant about seeing it on the table and the way the light enhances its beauty.  I also notice how people react when they hold a stunning champagne flute, or a beautifully cut double old fashioned… it is special.  We really do believe in living your best life and we want to bless our family and treat them well when they are in our home.

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I think it starts the moment you greet them at the door and we see the smile on their faces as they glance over at the table to see how it is set…whether it is a casual gathering or a formal affair.  The anticipation of an incredible dinner begins right then and there, and the smell coming from Lewis’s kitchen just excites everyone.

The wonderful thing about using Waterford Crystal is that it easily compliments existing pieces…family heirlooms, estate sale finds, or your Grandmother’s china, all can be used to create a unique and stunning table.

We wish you a joyous and beautiful season….surrounded by family and friends gathered at the table enjoying life and making sweet memories.

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Get out of your comfort zone!

As many of you know I’m the newest host here at Evine.  Taking the job a year ago followed many months of uncertainty and a visa process so lengthy it probably deserves a blog of its own!  I finally moved here from London in January this year.  Arriving in Minnesota in the middle of winter might sound like the worst time of year, but I had done my research, got some good boots and a big coat. With the beautiful houses and the snow it was like landing in Christmas-land!

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When most people talk about stepping out of their comfort zone, they think about doing something extreme like bungee jumping or leaping out of a plane.  But those are short, sharp shocks that are over quickly.  Moving to a new country, everything you do is new. New, job, new home, new people.  Even the car I drive (and the side of the road!) and where I buy groceries have all changed, so it takes a while to come down back to earth because there’s nothing familiar to come home to.  Plus, as there are so many decisions on a daily basis there’s no time to procrastinate!  You have to seize every moment, a way we often talk about in terms of living our lives but rarely get the chance to.

I’ve always had a love affair with America.  When I was little I used to watch Moonlighting from my bed and imagine that New York was outside my curtains.  I first went to New York when I was twenty years old and, in 2005, worked on the BBC documentary series ‘Soul Deep: The Story of Black Popular Music’ where we traveled the country interviewing some of the most influential names in soul music.  On my travels I’ve visited San Francisco, Las Vegas, LA, New York, New Orleans and Connecticut.  I’ve always found people in the US to be open, friendly and even an exchange with a stranger in a elevator can brighten my day.

Right place, right time..

Moving your whole life is a huge, but I had so many signs that this was the right place to be.  I’d lived in London for 10 years and always thought I would move after a decade but just hadn’t decided where yet.  Then my apartment building was sold and I’d be talking to my coach about moving to the States.  I was working in Dublin and walking down a street that could have been straight from Minnesota, thinking to myself that I always thought I would live in America one day and just weeks later I was approached by Evine!

In Minnesota, people are always curious when they hear me speak. “I love your accent”  is a daily thing, or “I could hear you talk all day” to which I say that can only be a good thing as I talk for a living and tell them they can watch me on Evine!  The question I get asked the most is, “What the biggest difference?” or “What do you miss the most?”  My advice to anyone going to live in a new country is to say your goodbyes to what and whoever you’re going to miss before you set foot on the plane, and look for connection rather than what’s different.

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When I first arrived I did miss being able to walk everywhere, as well as the architecture of London.  Unlike most Brits, I don’t crave PG or Tetley tea (British tea brands); I’m more of a Pukka girl when it comes to having a ‘cuppa’.  There aren’t any TV shows I can’t get online or live without.  In terms of fashion, I was sad to leave was my beloved Topshop.  I actually cried when I saw they’d come to Nordstrom’s – to see the familiar logo I’ve loved and worn for years in an unexpected place brought up unexpected emotions!

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There’s a French expression, ‘Vive la difference’ and ‘long live the difference’ is how I feel about living in America.  I love the four seasons that we have in Minnesota, I’m a water-baby (which you can read about in my last blog) so very well suited to lake-life.  I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of making new friends with the interests and person I am now.  I adore the weather here because, although Minnesotans refer to it as a short summer, three months is a cause for celebration and very different from our wet summers in the UK!

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Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about taking plunge and moving somewhere new:

Embrace the new

One of my mottos has always been ‘I’ll try anything twice’.  I hated sushi the first time, now I love it!  If you’re somewhere new you’re not the same ‘you’ so, be adventurous – you might surprise yourself!  When I came over last year, I went to the State Fair to sample the many foods on a stick and then drove to St Paul to hit up the yard sales.  A few months ago, I volunteered at the Minneapolis film festival; both to meet new people and so that I had to drive across Downtown in rush hour!  I often set myself ‘missions’ just to get myself up and out and about.

Laugh at yourself

Taking yourself too seriously can leave you feeling overwhelmed.  Another motto of mine is ‘Lighten up and let go’.  I like to try and laugh at situations and notice my negative self-talk.  Telling yourself, “I’m such an idiot” doesn’t serve you.  Try laughing at the situation rather than making it your fault.  We can’t all be comedians 24-7, but sometimes cracking up at a situation lightens the mood and gives you a new perspective.

Let yourself mess up

Things will go ‘wrong’ but, as a life coach, I’m a great believer that the only mistakes we make are the ones we don’t learn from.  Allowing yourself to fail allows you to grow.

*Pssst! I failed my written Minnesota driving test the first time and then spent two days revising the whole Minnesota drivers handbook!*

Make it your own

I’ve practiced yoga for 16 years and love to swim, dance and work out in the gym.

I bought my yoga mats with me and joined a studio the first week.  If your life is feeling all over the place, try and create your own routines to feel grounded and move your body to get those feel good endorphins.  I love the quote, ‘If Oprah has time to meditate you have time to meditate.’ (Even if I don’t always find time to meditate! 😉

Get out there!

Don’t stay in and wait for life to happen. Meetup.com is a great way to meet people with the same interests as you.  If you’re feeling you can’t go alone, post a message to say that you’re feeling nervous!  A lot of meetups wear wrist bands or something to make it easy for you to find the group. Go for it!

 

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Together

I treasure my friendships!  My husband Lewis is my best friend – we are great companions and have the best time together.  We also enjoy spending time with an amazing group of friends that we met through Evine years ago.  We’ve remained close and enjoy traveling together.  We consider ourselves very lucky to have a great group of friends like this. What’s so cool about this group is the age range – 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s! The thirty-somethings teach us old dogs a thing or two.  Talk about great dating conversation!  Wow, wow, wow!!  Times have changed since Lewis and I were dating!

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One of our favorite weekends with them is our canoe trip to Wisconsin.  We spend a leisurely weekend at our friend Lisa’s cabin – laughing, eating and catching up on life.  This is an annual trip that’s been going on for 10 years! We all sign up for our food assignment a couple of weeks out.  Who’s doing dinner?  Well, it’s usually my sweet Lew and our dear friend Brett – they’re both talented when it comes to cooking.  I love to bake a cake or bring a fun dessert, and everyone else signs up for breakfast or lunch on the Namekagan River.  Oh . . . and someone’s always given the fun cocktail assignment!  We spend all day Saturday floating down the river enjoying the beauty of nature and just being together.  We love that word ‘together’ and we use it a lot.

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With this great group of friends we always travel to some place new every October.  We try to pick a place that none of us have ever been to, and all get to experience something new together.  We’ve been to the vineyards in California, Whidbey Island in Washington, Savannah, Georgia and, this year, we’re going to Santa Barbara, California.  What a treasure friendship is!

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We love to close out the year together celebrating the holiday season. Lewis and I host a Christmas get-together for our group at our house.  We enjoy an amazing meal – last year it was lobster!  Then we enjoy exchanging gifts and doing a fun elephant gift exchange too! This night goes on forever with fun games, great conversation and everyone usually ends up spending the night.

I feel incredibly grateful for our friendships.  We’ve been through a lot together and it feels so good knowing that you have their love and support.

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Cheers to friendship!

 

 

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